76ers

Sixers at Wizards: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

Sixers at Wizards: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

The Sixers (15-6), winners of four in a row and eight of their last nine, will look to get to the .500 mark on the road when they visit the Wizards (6-13) Thursday night.

Josh Richardson (right hamstring tightness) remains out. He did individualized workouts the last two days at practice, but the team is being cautious as Richardson will miss his fourth straight game. Shake Milton (right hip discomfort) will be available.

Washington will be without starting center Thomas Bryant (right foot stress reaction) and veteran wing C.J. Miles (left wrist). Backup bigs Ian Mahinmi (right Achilles strain) and Moritz Wagner (left ankle sprain) are available. 

Here are tonight's essentials:

When: 7 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m.
Where: Capital One Arena
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia+
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch:

The competition

Rookie Matisse Thybulle has wreaked havoc on the defensive end in almost every one of his appearances this season. He leads all rookies with 29 steals and is third among them in deflections — despite playing far less minutes than the other first-year players at the top of the list.

But it hasn’t just been Thybulle that’s been so disruptive. Ben Simmons, who looks well on his way to earning some type of All-Defensive team honors, leads the NBA in steals and is second in deflections.

A competition has formed.

“I’d say it’s me, him and J-Rich when it comes to steals, trying to see who can get the most, within reason, without trying to put guys in tough positions,” Thybulle said after practice Tuesday. “I think it’s cool that we have that competitiveness. You’ve seen it with Ben, he’s changed games — he’s won games — with steals down the stretch. I think it’s cool to have that little competition within ourselves.”

The caveat of not “trying to put guys in tough positions” is important here. Thybulle has been walking the fine line all season of being disruptive and not leaving his teammates out to dry. To Thybulle’s credit, you can see the improvement. And to Brett Brown’s credit, he admitted before the Jazz game that he needs to be more tolerant with Thybulle.

Despite playing at the fastest pace in the NBA, the Wizards are one of the better teams in the league at taking care of the basketball. Something will have to give Thursday night.

Feed Embiid

Joel Embiid is the focal point of the Sixers’ offense and that shouldn’t change against Washington. He’ll likely see plenty of rookie Rui Hachimura playing the five with the Wizards’ frontcourt so banged up. With that, Embiid is likely to see plenty of double teams and possibly even some zone.

It’ll be on the other Sixers to make plays and shots around Embiid, who has improved greatly in navigating double teams. They should be able to expose Washington’s defense. The Wizards have the worst-rated defense in the NBA and give up the third-most points per game.

Beal is the real deal

News flash: Bradley Beal is really freaking good. And he’s having one of his best seasons. He’s averaging 28.7 points and 7.2 assists a game — both marks would be career highs. He’s taking the most threes he ever has so his percentage is down, but he’s getting to the line just a little under seven times a game. 

And Beal’s supporting cast is no joke on the offensive end. The Sixers will have their hands full with how Davis Bertans (44.6 percent) and Isaiah Thomas (41 percent) are shooting from three. With that said, both players can be exposed on the defensive end.

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Sixers’ bell ringing ceremony after win over Nets was especially entertaining

Sixers’ bell ringing ceremony after win over Nets was especially entertaining

The Sixers' ceremonial, celebratory miniature Liberty Bell does travel, even if they've gotten much more use out of it at Wells Fargo Center than on the road this season.

Brett Brown's preamble Monday before handing the bell off to Ben Simmons was especially entertaining. Simmons was the Sixers' bell ringer after his 34-point triple-double in a 117-11 win over the Nets, but Brown made sure to praise several others.

“Al Horford … with just some adult f---ing plays at the end," Brown said. "Holy s---. Really just great stuff.”

Brown isolated Mike Scott, too.

“And how ‘bout you? You were great tonight, Mike Scott.”

You can watch the full video below, courtesy of the Sixers' Twitter account.



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Ben Simmons' stat line doesn't begin to tell story of his impact in Sixers' win over Nets

Ben Simmons' stat line doesn't begin to tell story of his impact in Sixers' win over Nets

Before every game, Ben Simmons tweets out an emoji of an angry face with steam coming out of its nose.

In Monday’s 117-111 win over the Nets (see observations), Simmons was the personification of that.

Simmons played angry from start to finish in tying his career-high of 34 points while also notching his fourth triple-double of the season with 12 assists and 12 rebounds. He also had five steals, making him the first NBA player to record at least that stat line since steals were first tracked in 1973-74.

The scary thing: He was even better than the box score indicates.

“We learned that he was Conference Player of the Week during this game,” Brett Brown told reporters in Brooklyn. “I would have given him that just for his second half of this game.”

For as good as Simmons was in the first half, he was especially spectacular after halftime. That’s especially notable for all the recent scrutiny he’s faced.

For as well as Simmons has played in Joel Embiid’s absence (19.2 points, 8.7 rebounds, 7.2 assists per game), many pointed to Simmons’ inability to score late in games. He had just two points (1 of 4) in 37 fourth-quarter minutes over his last four games. To be fair, he also had 11 assists to just two turnovers.

If you didn’t notice him in the second half of this game, you weren’t watching very closely. He had 19 of his 34 points after halftime. He also snagged three of his steals while only turning the ball over once.

Along with rookie Matisse Thybulle, Simmons ignited the team’s defensive effort coming out of the locker room. The Sixers held the Nets to just 43 second-half points and forced 15 turnovers.

“I think Ben's energy, honestly, is just contagious,” Al Horford said. “I think that at the level that he was playing — that kind of All-NBA-type, taking over the game — I just think it really rubbed off on all of us and we just stepped our game up and played free and played hard.”

With Embiid out, Brown turned to little-used Kyle O’Quinn and the even less used Jonah Bolden to back up Horford in the first half. They were a combined minus-six with six fouls in 15 minutes.

Enter Simmons.

We haven’t seen a ton of Simmons at the five this season, but desperate times may have caused the Sixers to “trip on something,” as Brown likes to say. They went to a lineup with Raul Neto at the one and found success using Simmons as a screener and roller.

Rookie Nicolas Claxton, who had a big first half for the Nets, wasn’t a physical match for Simmons. That won’t happen on most nights in the NBA, but when teams go small, the Sixers have quite an answer.

“It’s tough for any big to really guard me when I’m going at them,” Simmons said. “That’s not a knock on any bigs, I’m just pretty fast and can get to the rim.”

As we’ve seen many teams do this season, Brooklyn head coach Kenny Atkinson used a center, Jarrett Allen, on Simmons. Allen just sat in the paint and dared Simmons to shoot. 

In the past when the strategy was deployed, Simmons wouldn’t attack it. That's changed of late. Instead of trying to beat that tactic by shooting, Simmons has eaten that space and taken on opposing bigs at the rim — with a ton of success.

We all know the strengths of Simmons and that one glaring weakness. It seems like Brown has maximized those strengths recently and Simmons has taken on a different mindset.

“Same s---, you know what I’m saying? That’s Ben Simmons,” Mike Scott said. “He’s an All-Star. He’s our leader. I thought it was as he should.”

While Simmons recorded easily the best stat line of his NBA career, this may have been his finest performance as a pro.

“He just peppered the stat sheet all over the place,” Brown said. “But what I see is his spirit, his body language, his facial expressions. They reeked of, ‘We’re going to win, and you guys hang on to me and I will carry you.’ And I felt like he did that in many, many ways.”

By the way, that emoji is known as “face with look of triumph.”

Yeah, that works.

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